Since graduating university, Paul has worked as a bookseller, librarian, and educator. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.
Having worked in yards, kayaked, cycled, played tennis, and generally experienced the outdoor life in Florida for over ten years, I sometimes feel like I've been bitten or stung by pretty much every insect and arachnid that the Sunshine State has to offer. This article lists ten common "bugs" (arthropods) that can make you go ouch in Florida.
10 Florida Insects and Arachnids That Bite or Sting
- Biting Midges (No-See-Ums)
- Red Fire Ants
- Bed Bugs
- Florida Carpenter Ants
- Bees and Wasps
- Yellow Flies
I will discuss each bug listed in more detail below.
1. Biting Midges (No-See-Ums)
Also known as sandflies and no-see-ums, midges are tiny insects that swarm. They are known for being very annoying, and there are some varieties that bite. If you are unlucky enough to encounter them, chances are you won't be just bitten once, as the entire swarm will seek to join the feast.
Midges like being close to water—especially salt marshes, mangrove swamps, and other humid environments. They are particularly prevalent around sunrise and sunset.
Their bites cause a burning sensation, and soon, a small red welt appears at the bite site. The only good news is that unlike mosquitos and some other biting insects, midges do not spread diseases.
2. Red Fire Ants
Originally from South America, red imported fire ants have become very common in Florida. Their bites cause painful lesions, followed around a day later by the appearance of white pustules on the skin. In my experience, the post-bite itching is often worse than the pain of the bite, as it goes on much longer.
These ants find plenty of opportunities to live around humans; they make their mounds in lawns and set up homes under patio slabs, on the edges of sidewalks, and in concrete driveways. When it rains heavily, they look for higher ground and sometimes venture indoors.
Mosquito bites can be very uncomfortable and sometimes result in the transmission of viruses. Female mosquitos do the biting. They release saliva into the bite area, which causes the allergic reaction that some people get following being bitten. Typically, a puffy bump forms on the skin soon after the bite and gradually swells, reddens, hardens, and becomes itchy.
Mosquito-borne diseases in Florida include Eastern equine encephalitis, West Nile virus disease, and St. Louis encephalitis. There are a number of ways to avoid mosquito bites:
- Stay away from mosquito-infested areas.
- Stay inside during dawn and dusk.
- Wear loose-fitting, light-colored, protective clothing.
- Use mosquito repellent.
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4. Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are good at hiding in furniture (especially beds), clothing, and bags. These insects feed on people when they are asleep at night. They are so small and elusive that often the only way most people learn they have an infestation is by discovering their bites.
Infestations can be truly awful because they often go undetected initially, and by the time they are discovered, the population is sometimes too large and difficult to wipe out without considerable expense and disruption.
According to the Orkin top 50 rankings in 2016, the worst cities in Florida for bed bugs are Tampa, Orlando, Daytona Beach, Melbourne, Miami, and Fort Lauderdale. If you are a visitor to Florida, it's wise to:
- Check your hotel room for signs of infestation by inspecting potential hiding spots for bed bugs.
- Check your luggage after a trip, as bed bugs are hitchhikers and can travel via the luggage or clothing of their host.
- Put all your dryer-safe clothing in the dryer at the hottest temperature advisable when you return from your trip.
5. Florida Carpenter Ants
Carpenter ants get their name from their fondness for making their nests in rotting wood. They can't sting but will bite if they feel they or their nest are under threat. Their mandibles are large and capable of breaking human skin.
While their bites are not as itchy or long-lasting as those from red fire ants (number two on this list), they do still cause intense localized pain due to the formic acid that they inject into the bite site. Don't be too alarmed though; the bites are non-venomous and pose no serious health threats to people or pets.
6. Bees and Wasps
Bees and wasps can cause painful stings individually, but it's getting multiple stings from a swarm that you should really be wary of. Most species are social and are fond of making their homes on or around human structures. If they feel that their home is threatened, they will attack by stinging and injecting a venom that is a nerve poison. In extreme circumstances (like if the victim has a rare allergy or gets a large number of stings in a short time), the results can even be fatal.
Ticks are closely related to spiders and mites, and they can transfer some pretty serious diseases to humans. Four types of ticks that you should be particularly aware of in Florida are the lone star tick, the American dog tick, the black-legged tick, and the Gulf Coast tick.
- Lone star ticks: Lone star ticks are the most common human-biting tick in Florida, and they carry and transmit ehrlichiosis and southern tick-associated rash illness.
- American dog ticks: American dog ticks are mainly found on dogs but will also attach to other large mammals, including humans. They can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) and can also cause paralysis in dogs and children if they attach to the base of the skull or the spinal column.
- Black-legged ticks: Black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, are carriers of Lyme disease, babesiosis, and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA).
- Gulf Coast ticks: Gulf Coast ticks are found in grass prairies and coastal uplands. They are common in the southeastern states of the U.S. (including Florida) and can carry Rickettsia parkeri, a less-serious relative of RMSF.
Chiggers are mites that are most commonly found in low, damp areas with heavy vegetation. They attach themselves to human skin with their piercing mouth parts, but they don't feed on blood. Instead, they inject a fluid into the skin that dissolves tissue, which they feed on once it is liquified.
They usually die quickly because of the human immune reaction, but their bites cause uncomfortable welts to appear in about four to eight hours. Once present, these welts may last for as long as two weeks.
If you suspect that you have suffered a chigger attack, you should take a hot bath or shower and lather yourself with soapy water. Your clothes should be washed in hot, soapy water as well. The best way to avoid chigger bites is to cover yourself up when going into areas of heavy vegetation and to use an insect repellent.
9. Yellow Flies
Yellow fly is the name used by ordinary Floridians to describe a highly aggressive species of yellow-bodied biting horse fly. As with mosquitoes, it's the females that do the biting. They actually use our blood to help their eggs develop.
Yellow flies are particularly abundant during the summer months when the weather is at its hottest, and they are most active during the daytime. These insects benefit from Florida's mild climate and its wet, undeveloped areas, in which they breed. The best way to protect yourself from them is to wrap up and wear long sleeves, pants, and closed-toe shoes.
Florida is home to a number of spider species, many of which can bite if they feel threatened. The three that you should be particularly aware of are wolf spiders, widows, and brown recluses.
- Wolf spiders: Although wolf spiders are large and ferocious-looking, they tend to shy away from humans. If you are unlucky enough to make one feel trapped, however, they can and will bite. Their venom can paralyze an insect, but it is not considered particularly toxic to humans. Their bites hurt at a similar level to a bee sting.
- Widow spiders: Florida is home to four species of widow spiders. These spiders are timid, but if you touch a female accidentally, you may get bitten. A bite can cause intense pain, as widow venom is very toxic. Other bite symptoms include nausea, muscle cramps, and sweating. Widow bites are rarely fatal, but they can be quite serious, so you should seek medical attention immediately if bitten.
- Recluse spiders: Recluse spiders are not native to Florida and are rarely found in the state. According to the University of Florida, the vast majority of sightings are cases of misidentification. Those sightings that are genuine are almost always isolated incidents of recluses being accidentally brought in from other states by travelers or via cargo transported from other places. It is still best to err on the side of caution if you believe that a spider may be a recluse, as they have a venomous bite that can land you in the hospital or worse.
- Biting and Stinging Insects: University of Florida IFAS Extension
- Bed Bugs Are a Problem in These Florida Cities
- Ouch! Something’s Biting Me! Florida Pest Control
- Ticks in Florida: Florida Health
- Is It True That There Are Brown Recluse Spiders in Florida? University of Florida
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Paul Goodman